The best literature on the Vietnam War from a male perspective

Charles L. Templeton Author Of Boot: A Sorta Novel of Vietnam
By Charles L. Templeton

Who am I?

Charles Templeton has been there and understands the stories of those who served in combat. He understands the wounds that do not heal after fifty years and those warriors, who in their writing, try to provide a sense of understanding and vision to their stories. He served as a Marine helicopter crew chief during the American War in Vietnam. His love of Vietnam literature began in 1967 and continues to this day. After fifty years of researching and writing about the war, he believes there is a literature of the Vietnam War, and enough of it that you can identify the good and the bad. He writes book reviews for the Vietnam Veterans of America. Charles also edits and publishes an avant-garde literary online magazine, eMerge. He and his wife started and published a weekly newspaper in Eureka Springs, Arkansas for a few years, The Independent.

I wrote...

Boot: A Sorta Novel of Vietnam

By Charles L. Templeton,

Book cover of Boot: A Sorta Novel of Vietnam

What is my book about?

In a world awash in books on War and in particular the unabated American obsession with Vietnam, Boot has artistically created a mosaic that uniquely combines Heller’s famous portrayal of normal society exposed to the frustrating bureaucratic logic of the military with Remarque’s description of the extreme physical and mental stress brought on by detachment from civilian life by soldiers. Boot challenges the reader to think about whether or not truth exists, whether or not there are such things as right and wrong, and finally, whether the idea of morality is flexible based on the context (in this case, in the American War in Vietnam).

With a plethora of books being written with an underlying theme of trying to justify the American War in Vietnam, many reasons have been given for the failure of the U.S. Some of the causes and significance of that failure are misunderstood interests, cultural arrogance, silly military strategies, ill-informed tactics, and adverse domestic politics, among others. Boot asks us to rethink our reasoning and our experiences during those turbulent times and consider for a moment the moral and spiritual landscape in America at this time and the corruption of the South Vietnamese government to which the U.S. turned a blind eye. It is a wound on the soul of America which will continue to fester if it remains unexamined.

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The books I picked & why

Dog Soldiers

By Robert Stone,

Book cover of Dog Soldiers

Why did I love this book?

This book is set partly in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and partly in the U.S. and revolves around the Vietnam War and drug smuggling. The book deals with the pervasive sense of individual and institutional corruption which Vietnam seemed to embody. A corrupt society with no avenues of redemption, except in the individual’s code of honor, usually invented after the fact. A code that might perhaps save the individual, but not society. Dog Soldiers won the National Book Award. The first novel on the Vietnam War to be so honored. The story focuses on Ray Hicks, a sailor on the way home from Vietnam, and John Converse, a hapless war correspondent. If the most bizarre and outrageous behavior seems rational and acceptable to the majority of society, do individuals adjust their abilities and beliefs to determine what is right and wrong, or do they accept they accept the behaviors of the corrupt society in which they find themselves? It is a moral dilemma that Robert Stone has shined a brilliant light on in this epic novel on Vietnam.

By Robert Stone,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Dog Soldiers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Saigon during the last stages of the Vietnam War, a small-time journalist named John Converse thinks he'll find action - and profit - by getting involved in a big-time drug deal. But back in the States, things go horribly wrong. His courier disappears, probably with his wife, and a corrupt Fed wants Converse to find him the drugs, or else.

Dog Soldiers is a frightening, powerful, intense novel that perfectly captures the underground mood of the United States in the 1970s, when amateur drug dealers and hippies encountered the violent world of cops on the make and professional killers.…

Book cover of The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam

Why did I love this book?

A friend of mine gave me a copy of this book that he had brought back from a trip to Costa Rica in the mid-1990s. It haunts me still when I reflect upon it and burns in my subconscious like the Wille Pete (white phosphorous) our military used to terrorize the Vietnamese. It is the story of Kien, a North Vietnamese soldier. After the war, in 1976, Kien and others are sent to the Central Highlands to collect bodies for reburial. They are sent to The Jungle of Screaming Souls where Kien was the only survivor of his battalion. Kien’s tale reveals hard truths known to every common soldier in every war in history: “What remained was sorrow, the immense sorrow, the sorrow of having survived. The sorrow of war.” The psychological damage to the young men who fought in these wars, are the wounds that never heal. The Sorrow of War won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 1994.

By Bảo Ninh,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Sorrow of War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the semi-autobiographical account of a soldier's experiences. The hero of the story, Kien, is a captain. After 10 years of war and months as a MIA body-collector, Kien suffers a nervous breakdown in Hanoi as he tries to re-establish a relationship with his former sweetheart.

Book cover of The Things They Carried

Why did I love this book?

Quite possibly the seminal work on the American War in Vietnam. This was O’Brien’s fifth novel and his third and most insightful on exploring his personal participation in the Vietnam War. On the surface, O’Brien’s novel is a series of vignettes that is each self-contained. But when the twenty-two stories are read together, their synergy abounds, and they produce a combined effect much more significant than any of the stories taken separately. It is a fascinating and powerful read because it does not embellish nor glorify war. It is the common, almost universal, story of young men at war and their shared experiences. A central theme in each of the stories deals with the truth and what it entails. O’Brien may have been writing to exorcise his own demons, but in the process, he has helped countless veterans to deal with their psychological healing.

By Tim O'Brien,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked The Things They Carried as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The million-copy bestseller, which is a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling.

'The Things They Carried' is, on its surface, a sequence of award-winning stories about the madness of the Vietnam War; at the same time it has the cumulative power and unity of a novel, with recurring characters and interwoven strands of plot and theme.

But while Vietnam is central to 'The Things They Carried', it is not simply a book about war. It is also a book about the human heart - about the terrible weight of those things we carry through…

Book cover of Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War: An Oral History

Why did I love this book?

Fiction or nonfiction? Vietnam War literature presents the reader with a unique set of problems. If a name has been changed, is it fiction or fact? If the accuracy of the details is not absolute, fact or fiction? Tim O’Brien dealt with this problem most sensibly in The Things They Carried, in the chapter entitled, How to Tell a True War Story. The truth of any story is not as important as the story itself. The stories about the American War in Vietnam reveal something about the storytellers, and their thought about that war. Wallace Terry offers a unique and accurate look at the African American experience in Vietnam through twenty interviews collected in Bloods. Terry assembles a wide range of perspectives; he interviewed members from different branches of the military, officers and enlisted, volunteers and draftees, and prisoners of war. As divergent as the stories are, they all share a commonality: being black and in the military of a country that was still dominated by institutional racism. They are important stories for today but will continue to be important far into America’s future.

By Wallace Terry,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Bloods as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK • The national bestseller that tells the truth about the Vietnam War from the black soldiers’ perspective.

An oral history unlike any other, Bloods features twenty black men who tell the story of how members of their race were sent off to Vietnam in disproportionate numbers, and of the special test of patriotism they faced. Told in voices no reader will soon forget, Bloods is a must-read for anyone who wants to put the Vietnam experience in historical, cultural, and political perspective.

Praise for Bloods

“Superb . . . a portrait not just of…

The Sympathizer

By Viet Thanh Nguyen,

Book cover of The Sympathizer

Why did I love this book?

In 1979 I taught history at a high school in Texas and remember picking up Dallas paper and reading about the Ku Klux Klan clashing the Vietnamese refugees in Seadrift, Texas. Today, there are over 80,000 Vietnamese Americans in Houston, Texas. Most of the literature written by the Vietnamese has either been about the war or about Vietnam. In The Sympathizer, Thanh Nguyen draws attention to the plight of the Vietnamese who started arriving in America almost fifty years ago. But Thanh Nguyen’s novel is much deeper than the plight of immigrants arriving in America. It is also about the power of language and the power of stories viewed through different lenses. On page 68 of the Sympathizer (first edition), the narrator discusses the various plights of unsuspecting Vietnamese newly arrived in America and how you are expected to give up your culture and adapt and assimilate in a new environment. The Sympathizer won the Pulitzer Prize in 2016 along with many other writing awards. The Vietnamese people have always gifted the world with poets and writers, and now, there is a cadre of Vietnamese Americans who share their stories with America and the world.

By Viet Thanh Nguyen,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Sympathizer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong. The Sympathizer is the story of this captain:…

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